Goldie winner — Music: The Finches

Pub date November 7, 2007
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

We wish they all could be California girls — or pure products of the Bay like the Finches’ Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs. On the phone from New York City, where she’s playing a series of CMJ-related shows, the singer-songwriter is as laid-back about scheduling an interview ("Whatever’s clever!" she says merrily) as she is playfully lickety-split with a quirky quip, a roll-off-the-tongue rhyme, or an unguarded revelation (of a new Los Angeles job that requires the 26-year-old be on her feet all day, she says, "I wear a knee brace. I already dress like a grandma — now I can own it all the way"). She’s scattered, maybe even flighty, but in the most charming way imaginable. "I feel like my heart is in the Bay and my head is in LA and my feet are in New York City," the rootless songbird trills. "I’m disconnected, but flexible."

That ability to sink, swim, or sing on the fly has served the East Bay–bred Pennypacker Riggs well. It doesn’t hurt that she has a wonderful voice — a pure, unadorned soprano that disarms as simply and sweetly as her weaving, bobbing, winsome thoughts. It gracefully complements such refreshingly unpretentious folk numbers as "June Carter Cash," "Last Favor," and the title track of this year’s Human like a House (Dulc-i-Tone) — all concerned are plain of speech, untrammeled in spirit, yet uncannily right on and resonant in the way they transform everyday language into memorable songs. With accompaniment by guitarist-vocalist-bassist Aaron Morgan (Roots of Orchis), Human, which is beautifully packaged with Pennypacker Riggs’s fairy-taley woodcuts, builds on a 2006 self-released EP, Six Songs, and shows that the Finches are here to stay, despite the fact that Morgan has recently flown, and that Pennypacker Riggs still harbors a palpable longing for a nest "by the bay … looking out the Golden Gate."

The songs emerged — and continue to find their shape — through Pennypacker Riggs’s footloose wanderings: "I guess I kept thinking about the Bay Area, how I’d never be able to afford a house there. Will I ever be gainfully employed? That kind of quarter-life crisis." Thankfully, the songs are portable. Many were written while she was living in Germany in 2004, pining away for Zachary’s pizza. Later she and Morgan, a kindred UC Santa Cruz graduate, tracked the tunes during various school breaks. Human‘s numbers were first laid down in San Diego with Morgan’s dad before the pair completed the LP — with contributions from Vetiver’s Alissa Anderson, Roots of Orchis’s Justin Pinkerton, and Pennypacker Riggs’s mother, Susan, on recorder — in El Cerrito among Pennypacker Riggs’s music-loving brood; her father, physicist Carlton Pennypacker, also writes, namely operas about scientists. "I considered majoring in physics when I started college," Pennypacker Riggs says with a laugh. "But I learned to do real art, and it was too much lab time for me!"

With a new EP coming out with live takes recorded in Austin, Texas, and at WFMU in Jersey City, NJ, and new songs featuring the Papercuts’ Jason Quever, the Finches seem to be finding a delicate foothold, one that has been musically compared to ’80s UK group the Marine Girls but might also be gently, loosely held against the work of local legend Jonathan Richman. It’s music out of time, away from any hipster posse — something that initially riveted Dulc-i-Tone head and Revolver staffer Matt Roberts. "That’s what I like about them," he writes in an e-mail. "Music not connected to a scene is timeless music. These songs could have been written in the ’60s, the ’70s, or the ’00s — it’s just good songwriting."